April 18, 1932 - July 13, 1995
didn't see him, by God, I really didn't see him."
story defines the phrase, "Being in the wrong place at the wrong time"
on a spectacular level. It's about the man who caused the death of James
September 30, 1955, the world lost the 24-year-old actor, James Dean. He
only made three films, two that were not even released yet. He was not rich and famous, nor would he ever be in his lifetime.
5:59 pm, a 23-year-old Cal Poly student named Donald Turnupseed made the infamous
left turn that would take the life of Dean, making him immortal. Dean died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.
grew up in a little town nearby called Tulare,
and attended Tulare Union High School.
He spent some time in the Navy, and spent nearly his entire life in that
the accident, Turnupseed, with a scratched nose, was told by a CHP officer to
hitchhike home. There was an inquest held, and it was ruled an accident. According to the book The Death of James Dean, "Turnupseed probably would have been cited at the scene for an illegal left
turn and perhaps other negligence-related charges, such as failure to signal,
failure to see safe movement, and unsafe speed. But because the crash involved a fatality, there was an inquest held. Jimmy was probably speeding (but not the ridiculous speeds some suggest (more like 60-70), and because the Porsche he was driving was so low to the
ground, and at that time of day Turnupseed really didn't realize what hit
him (or he hit) until it was too late.
never spoke publicly about the accident. My friend, writer Warren Beath, who penned The Death of James
Dean, and last year's book James
Dean in Death, approached Donald once. He was friendly enough, but when asked if he would comment on the
accident, Turnupseed's expression changed to near stone, and he answered
simply, "Not a chance."
was a correspondence from Turnupseed auctioned off in recent years, in which he
addresses the accident. He wrote to a buddy from the Navy:
am certainly sorry you have not heard from me before now but I have had quite a
bit of excitement in the last year. Or so, first starting back to school then
the affair with Dean, Bought another car & a house so I am just now getting
time to get my breath.
"I am enclosing some shots of mine & Dean cars. I had
my Ford fixed like we had planned on the ship. I salvaged
the manifold and carb are all that were left. A brand new set of Offenhouser
heads gone, a (H) & M magneto run down the thought of a new eagle cam. But
thank God I got out of it in one piece. But that is in the past and as I have
said in poker games on the ship 'that was yesterday.'"
inherited his father's electrical business and built it into a multi
Today in some parts of California,
it's quite common to see a utility
truck sporting the name so closely associated with James Dean's demise.
did marry twice, was widowed once, had 3 children, 1 stepson and 5
He succumbed to lung cancer (he had been diagnosed in late '93) on July 13, 1995,
in his home in Tulare,
discussing the accident publicly. He was 63 years old.
body was handled by Miller's Funeral
and he is buried in the Tulare District Cemetery, next to his
first wife and his parents.
Thank you Warren and thank